When Adrian Ivory was a child, one of his teachers asked the class what they wanted to be when they grew up. There was the usual assortment of wannabe astronauts, firemen and train drivers – but the-then five-year-old Adrian was adamant. “I want to be a farmer,” he said.
He’s certainly achieved the ambition: The 34-year-old is now running a top-notch beef and grain enterprise near Meigle in Perthshire.
“After a degree at the Royal Agricultural College and a short spell on the London stock market Adrian returned to 240ha (600 acres), 80 commercial and 30 pedigree cows and, after getting “a good grounding” for five years under the farm manager, he took over at the helm of his family’s farm.
He soon identified two principal objectives: To scale up and to simplify. He’s expanded it to about 1000ha (2500 acres) (over half of which is owned) and 230 cows, with two enterprises now at its heart: Beef and grain.
Adrian is convinced they work well in parallel. “I’m a great believer in the adage ‘up corn, down horn’,” he says.
He has a huge array of figures at his fingertips, all compiled in a dossier which he refers to as the “Strathisla Bible”.
His commitment to the “KISS principle” (Keep it simple, stupid) has meant many enterprises have been dropped or streamlined. His aim is uncomplicated but ambitious: To make a 3% return on the land and a 15% return on the operating assets.
The farm has long since been well-known for its pedigree Simmentals, but Adrian is also expanding the Charolais herd.
He treats pedigree showing as his “shop window” and has notched up many successes over the years including first prize tickets at the Royal Highland and Royal Show.
Indeed, it’s the cattle that are Adrian’s real passion. He loves the challenge of rearing animals, of the influence he can have by varying the breeding programme. “It’s about choice, making decisions and sometimes involves a little bit of a gamble.”
While already having some economies of scale, Adrian reckons there’s still some scope to expand. In 10 years’ time, he reckons he could well be farming another 1000-1200 acres.
“The trick,” he says, “is to monitor what you’re doing closely and keep believing in what you’re doing.
“It’s imperative to know your costs, as well. I factor out subsidies when doing costings. I think they will disappear, so ultimately you’ve got to be globally competitive without subsidies.”
Having a 10-year plan is important, he stresses. “We’re planning crop rotations up to 2015.
“We believe we can compete globally with cattle and beef – although inevitably there will be threats around the corner.
This long-term approach extends to the five staff, too. “I’ve always enjoyed working with the men and involve them in all the big decisions.”
That said, Adrian’s well aware that he’s still a relative “newcomer”. “The senior tractor driver has been here for 34 years. I’m only 34 now.”
As well as being hands-on at the farm, Adrian is also proactive at forging links industry-wide. He’s developed relationships with a plethora of industry bodies in a bid to better understand and influence the supply chain.
He’s involved with the Simmental and Charolais Cattle Societies, ABP’s beef steering committee, Sainsbury’s regional and national steering committees, the Scottish Beef Cattle Association and Beef Expo 2008.
“I look at supermarkets rather differently from some farmers. They’re my customer and I believe in engaging with the customer. Yes, it’s about the price and the bottom line – but it’s about the forward vision, too.”